Measuring Progress: A Pointless Exercise?

Measuring Progress

Why measuring progress is overrated

Last time you were observed teaching a lesson, did your observer focus on ‘measuring progress’ in their feedback? What exactly did they mention? Did you believe them? Did you feel proud or ashamed of the feedback? Did either of you ‘grade’ the quality of the teaching or even the teacher? Was the amount or rate of learning measured? Was the observation a positive, or even a useful experience? Teachers across many schools have had experiences such as these. It is one of the factors contributing to a crisis in recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers across many countries. But it is a factor that can be eliminated very simply. Ban lesson observations from discussions on student progress. They simply do not work.

What does ‘progress’ even mean?

In this post, I hope to convince you that measuring progress in lesson observations is a waste of time. There, I said it. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Yes. Why? Because students in every school are at risk of a second-rate education. This is due largely to teachers altering their lessons to ensure short-term success within a lesson, at the expense of better progress over the long-term.

There, I said it. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Yes. Why? Because students in every school are at risk of a second-rate education. This is due largely to teachers altering their lessons to ensure short-term success within a lesson, at the expense of better progress over the long-term.

This problem is exacerbated even further during lesson observations. In many schools, the ‘rate’ or ‘amount’ of progress within the lesson is still being ‘measured’ by SLT and external inspectors alike. However, the problem with aiming for short-term success is that the long-term needs of the students are put aside. This is simply for the sake of teachers trying to demonstrate excellent progress in front of observers. After all, nobody wants to be judged as anything less than brilliant! Observations are a snapshot, a small-scale sample. They simply cannot be used as evidence of student progress.

Fortunately, many high-performing schools are taking on board ever-increasing levels of educational research, in order to raise the achievement of students. Organisations such as the Sutton Trust have researched what factors make the greatest difference to learning. Schools have developed Learning Improvement Plans in response to this research. Now it’s time for Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) to examine whether or not lesson observations are useful enough in improving student progress, to justify the problems they also generate.

So, what’s wrong with measuring progress?

To really understand this question, it’s important to go back to first principles and to ask these fundamental questions:

  1. What is the purpose of education?
  2. What role should teachers play in education?
  3. What role should students play in their own education?
  4. What else matters?

1. What is the purpose of education?

The ‘purpose’ of education, in my mind, comes down to one simple idea. Education should aim to provide a person with the knowledge and skills to ensure they are able to flourish and succeed once they have left education. In order to achieve this aim, educators should measure progress. But only when it helps education over the long-term. We should evidence the development of students’ knowledge, but there are far better methods than old-fashioned lesson observations. Monitoring student folders is far more accurate. It can’t be staged and it allows teachers to teach in their own way, using their own professional judgement to guide them.

Artificial situations have also been created by teachers, in order to ‘demonstrate’ their own teaching ‘skills’. But a teacher’s aim is to promote learning as their first priority! The cause of this mismatch in priorities is that in too many cases teachers feel they must ‘perform’ to the latest standards, or use the latest methods ‘preferred’ by external inspectors or SLT.

Finally, too many teachers provide students with everything they need in order to pass an exam. This can be useful, but only insofar as it equips the students with the skills they need after leaving school. However, students are often so spoon-fed that they don’t know how to learn or how to solve problems even though they managed to achieve good grades in their exams.

A good education system should create resilient problem-solvers. A focus on measuring progress, however, often makes teachers less likely to spend enough time on challenging tasks. This is because the task may not provide positive ‘progress’ data in time for the termly data-window when assessment results are submitted. Instead, many teachers favour shorter and less rigorous tasks, where they can demonstrate repeated intervention, rather than allowing students to learn resilience.

2. What role should teachers play in education?

There is often a debate about whether the teacher should be the ‘sage on the stage’ or the ‘guide on the side’. I don’t think it matters, so long as you change it up now and again. Students need both direct instruction and the freedom to tackle things in their own way. That way, they benefit from having an expert in the room and from having the space to be creative in how they learn. A focus on measuring progress in a lesson can sometimes interfere with this process, creating unnecessary constraints on the structure of lessons.

Teachers should be able to teach in whatever way they like, so long as by the end of the course, students are able to demonstrate that they can achieve well in the exam and go on to lead successful lives. After all, isn’t this what matters most to our students?

3. What role should students play in their own education?

Learning how to learn is arguably the most important skill a student can learn at school. It happens when we give students a variety of levels of challenge, over time, with varying levels of support. Independent learning is crucial, whether through homework or through students’ own wider reading around the subject. Students often overlook their own role in their own education. Therefore it is vital that we teach students explicitly about their own role in the learning process.

Unfortunately, though, students often overlook their own role in their education. Therefore it is vital that we teach them explicitly about this. I would even argue that it should be done before you begin teaching subject topics. That way, it won’t be viewed by the students as a simplistic reaction to a badly completed homework, or as a trendy add-on following a course we’ve been on.

One consequence of creating a culture of independent learning is that some students will do it extremely well. Sometimes my own students will turn up to a lesson, having taught themselves the topic at home.

4. What else matters?

Teachers are in education for the long haul. So are students. Observers should be too, but often they become distracted by short-term thinking, rather than planning for the future. The consequence is that lesson observations are added to the workload of teachers and SLT.

However, a quick cost-benefit analysis shows that the number of hours put into lesson observation schedules does not make enough positive difference to long-term teaching, to justify the expense. Teachers are worn out. SLT are worn out. We can’t really use the ‘data’ gathered as it doesn’t really measure progress accurately. Our paperwork is then filed away for external inspection teams. This is so that SLT can at least be seen to have tried to monitor and make an impact on student progress.

Meanwhile, lessons are taught with ‘education’ as a secondary priority.

But there is one last nail in the coffin of lesson observations: external inspectors now take less and less account of what they see in lesson observations when making judgements on progress. Sir Michael Wilshaw, an experienced headteacher and the head of Ofsted (at the time of writing), has frequently bemoaned the way that many teachers feel they ought to measure progress, often several times per lesson and especially during inspection visits. Bite-sized chunks of learning are used too often, at the expense of students taking their time on more challenging tasks. I mentioned this earlier, but you can read more about his experience in this Telegraph article.

In essence, Wilshaw views the process of measuring progress as a much more long-term one. Progress ‘measurements’ should take into account long-term data trends and evidence of students making progress over time. The individual lesson observation plays such a superficial role in the measurement of progress, that we might as well abandon it altogether.

So there you have it. If you want to measure progress then leave lesson observations out of it. They are quite frankly, not fit for purpose.

Recommended Reading

If you want to know more (from a true expert on the subject) then I recommend the brilliant book Making Good Progress (Amazon affiliate link) by Daisy Christodoulou. In her book, she gives practical advice in simple terms, based on extensive research. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better book on this subject. It’s had a huge impact on the way I teach and I know I’d be a poorer teacher without having read it.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Leave a reply below or send me a message @guruteaching on Twitter.

You can follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

Motivating Students

motivating students

Motivating students after Results Day

As a teacher, motivating students is one of the biggest challenges we face. There are probably a number of reasons, other than the quality of teaching, to explain why some students didn’t make as much progress as they could have done. Lack of motivation, distraction, tiredness, ineffective study techniques, porr homework record, the list goes on.

But no matter what the reason was for their underperformance, we, as their teachers or Heads of Departments, will have to quickly deal with the areas that have held those students back from achieving their potential. Otherwise, we fail too.

Take action

In your first lesson back after the summer holidays, take some time to explain to students the context of their results: why the results matter, but also why students are not defined by their exam results. They are people, not data. This may offer little comfort to some who think that they’ve wasted a year or two, but at least they will see you as being on their side and being willing to look for solutions. This will help later on when things get tough again.

However, most importantly, it’s true. Students are people, not little marks on a chart, or a step towards achieving an acceptable percentage for the cohort. Teachers can lose sight of this when schools are increasingly measured by exam data. If this thought isn’t central to our thinking, then we will lose sight of the entire purpose of education – to help people achieve their full potential and contribute positively to the world.

Below I’ve outlined a few solutions, as a way to begin helping your students to the next level after their exams. It’s a starting point, not a complete solution. So if I’ve missed something obvious, or you would do things differently, then good! You know your students better than I do!

Priorities for improving student achievement:

Motivation

Sometimes it’s important to refer back to the big picture. Ask the students why they are here, studying your subject. Get them to see both the intrinsic and extrinsic value of performing well your subject. Will high performance in the subject lead to Higher Education, a career, further vocational training? Will proficiency in the subject develop skills relevant to a wide variety of industries? Will the skills increase enjoyment, or be useful in everyday life? So long as you can find a “yes” for each of your students, you will be able to do something to improve their motivation.

Unsurprisingly, students will be very emotional. Surprisingly, though, many teachers do not tap into this to see if there is some way to get students to focus on positive emotions. I find that visualisation can help here. Tip for motivating students: Have the students close their eyes and talk them through what the upcoming year will look like, leading through various stages, all the way up to results day when they will open their results envelope, discovering the grades they are hoping for. By giving students the time and by creating the conditions for them to imagine the simple stages leading to success, they will see the end result as attainable. This will help prevent the familiar “I can’t do that” mindset that can emerge after a poor performance in an exam. Resilience is key. You can read more on developing resilience here.

Distraction

Focus is crucial. Distraction is the enemy of focus. If there are distractions, then identify them. Remove the distractions when the revision is supposed to take place. Once temptation to procrastinate is removed, focus will be easier to achieve. Popular distractions for my students include:

  • social media
  • computer games
  • nights out
  • part-time employment
  • an infinite number ways to procrastinate online

By far the biggest distraction for my students is social media. I tell my students that when revising, turn off your mobile and put it in another room. Try to revise using offline methods wherever possible. Anecdotally, it works. Try it – it might work for your students too!

Motivting students

Zzzzzzzzzz…….

Studies suggest a wide range in the number of hours that we need, but they generally all agree that students need even more! Remind students to get to bed early more often than not and over time it will have a huge impact on their attention spans and ability to retain information. Revising whilst tired is a poor substitute for revising whilst alert.

Effective vs ineffective study techniques

Get the students to mind-map their revision methods (if they used more than one – hopefully they did). Then get them to list the most effective and least effective methods they used – NOT the ones they enjoy or prefer. A discussion of the results will help groups of students to see what ‘busy work’ they should avoid next time, leaving time to complete effective revision. There’s nothing worse than finding out that you’ve worked hard and been busy in the lead up to an exam, only to find that your revision didn’t actually work!

Motivating students is a much simpler task if you can clearly show them the best ways to achieve success.

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

Marginal Gains to Raise Achievement

apply marginal gains to raise achievement

Marginal Gains: Achieve Olympic Success in the Classroom!

This week’s post on Marginal Gains is a short but highly practical one that you can use with your students. You could use it as a starter task in each of the first lessons with your new classes.

I take my inspiration today from Sir David Brailsford, the man behind the incredible success of the British Cycling team. When he took over Team Sky back in 2009 he set himself the goal of achieving success in the Tour de France within five years. His philosophy, achieving success through marginal gains, was to take every aspect of a cyclist’s life and make a 1% improvement in each of those aspects. This included training methods, nutrition, technology, clothing, etc as you would expect. But he took it even further, looking at things like making sure that the team members had the best possible pillow to sleep on, monitoring how much sleep they got, spending time visualising success and a whole host of other daily habits. He even had the team learn how to ‘properly’ wash their hands, cutting down risks of infection, which could have led to illness and therefore underperformance.

Each of the things that Brailsford tried to improve by 1% would have made a negligible difference on its own. However, when added up over a long period of time, these marginal gains not only led to improved levels of progress on the track but a complete dominance of the sport. Team Sky achieved their Tour de France success within three years, not five. Added to that, British Cycling has amassed a significant number of Olympic medals at London 2012 and now at Rio 2016.

A question to my students at the start of this year:

What can you improve by 1% in order to make a  significant difference to your learning over the next year?

I’ll be getting my students to come up with their own suggestions first and to discuss just how much of a difference they will make to learning, over the course of a year. Then I’ll add in the suggestions below:

  • Go to bed earlier
  • Drink more water
  • Eat less junk food
  • Eat more healthy food
  • Turn screens off for an hour before bed
  • Spend 30 minutes revising each week, even if you don’t have a test coming up
  • Spend 5 minutes at the start of each week organising your workspace
  • Write a to-do list at the start of each week and complete it
  • Spend some time improving your physical fitness
  • Spend 5 minutes organising your files each week
  • Spend 5 minutes speaking to your teacher on how you could improve your next assessment
  • Spend 5 minutes speaking to your parents about what you achieved last week – positive thoughts
  • read a daily motivational quote to help develop resilience in tough situations
  • Read a book for fun to stimulate your imagination
  • Listen to a podcast on a topic related to your subjects
  • Read a broadsheet newspaper
  • Contribute to a forum on the internet related to your subject, e.g. www.thestudentroom.com
  • Keep a weekly or daily journal, related to your learning in school – be honest and periodically read back over previous entries
  • Follow some academically useful Twitter accounts

This task is a nice target setting exercise for the beginning of the year and once completed you can revisit student responses to see how far they have stuck to their plans. Keep the results, or even display them in your classroom!

What About Us Teachers?

Teachers are really busy. All of the time. That makes it difficult to justify spending extra time looking for ways to find another marginal gain. So, free up your time! Here are Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload. There. Now you can spend that extra time planning, giving feedback, or better still, having a well-earned rest.

As usual, let me know of your success stories!

Andy

 

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to share!

Building Resilient Learners

[Updated on 8 May 2018]

Are your students tough enough?

How to build resilient learners

Resilient

Every year the same questions in education appear again and again. One question I’ve been wrestling with recently is about resilience. Specifically, “Are our students resilient enough?” or “How can we make our students more resilient?” I suppose the answer differs, depending on the expectations we have, the age or maturity of the students, or perhaps even our own subjective perceptions of what it means to be ‘resilient’. But however you look at it, more and more is being expected by exam boards, universities and employers. Just to keep pace with previous cohorts, students need to achieve ever-increasing exam scores. To do this, they must study in more depth and in greater breadth. But how can they manage such a monumental task? The answer: resilience.

Let’s take a look…

Resilience

noun
  1. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
  2. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

Why do our students need to build resilience?

Students need to know why resilience is important. They need to see the relevance of it, to achieve good grades in their exams, but more importantly, that they need to leave school as resilient people. Our students will encounter challenges in their jobs, relationships, day-to-day decisions and long-term plans. They need to know that they WILL be able to find the answer if they look in the right places. They also need to know where those places are! Once you’ve given some lucid examples (from your own life if you are feeling brave!), they will see the benefit of practising resilience at school.

Resilient learner

How can we tell if students are resilient enough?

This one is easy. Ask all students to do something challenging. Read their faces as they work through the problem. Listen to how many of them say “this is impossible”, or “there’s no way I can do this”. Watch to see how many of them put their pens down before writing anything, or start looking out of the window. These are our target students. Building resilience is important to all of our students, but some are already more resilient than others. Focus your attention on where you can make the greatest difference.

Five ways to build resilient learners

Live-model the creation of the answer

Students who appear to lack the resilience to “have a go” at a challenging task sometimes just need to know where to start. In cases like these, showing a live demonstration of how to construct a good answer is a no-brainer. I used to show model answers on my whiteboard so that students could see what a good answer looked like. However, this only served to put the less resilient students off even more. They had no clue how to go about creating such an answer. What they really needed was to see, step-by-step, how to create the answer, rather than just seeing the final product. You can read more about how and why I now use live-modelling here.

 

2. Give feedback using SMART targets

As a student myself, when I was stuck on a task or struggled to come up with an idea, I often heard my teachers come out with comments like “You need to try harder”, or “Just put a little bit more effort in”. This made no sense to me (and made me pretty annoyed too!) because I felt like I was putting maximum effort in, with no results to show for it. A better comment from my teachers might have included something specific that I could research. Or they could have scaffolded the steps I should follow. They didn’t have to give me the answer, but they could at least have pointed me in the right direction! This would have helped me progress further, in subjects where I essentially became disengaged.

I use the SMART method to help my students overcome their challenges. Feedback should always aim to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. By using SMART targets, students will be much more able to find solutions for themselves and will be much less likely to just give up and become disinterested.

Building Resilient Learners

3. Develop independent learners

I’ve blogged in the past about the necessity of developing Independent Learning as a strategy to raise attainment. As students move up through GCSEs and A Levels it becomes crucial that they are able to direct their own learning beyond the classroom. However, if they haven’t learnt how to do it beforehand, then they may see this as yet another hurdle. Therefore, developing independent learners lower down the school is the long-term solution. Give students

Give students long-term, open-ended projects, rather than heavily prescribed and weekly homework tasks. Then make sure that you give SMART feedback at some point during the process, before they submit their final piece of work. But most crucially, make sure that students take full control of what the end-product looks like, so that when they submit it, they can feel as though they have challenged themselves and can fully appreciate that they have earned their marks by overcoming their challenges. Students seeing their hard-won success is key to building resilience.

4. Use motivational quotes

Another thing I’ll be doing this year is to have some motivational quotes and pictures displayed around my classroom to refer to from time to time, whenever students begin to find challenges mounting up. An excellent quote I’ve used in the past, particularly in the run-up to final exams is by William G.T. Shedd: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for”. For me, this sums up what resilience is all about – moving away from what is comfortable and towards what helps us grow and show our true potential. It’s short, visual and inspirational. Students can relate to it and in my experience, it works.

Motivation - Michael Jordan

5. Know your students!!!

There is one thing that has made the greatest difference in my ability to build resilient students. I get to know them. Regular conversations with the students as they go about their work in the classroom, or when I see them on the corridor at break time helps to build a trusting relationship. Not only does it help with reducing challenging behaviour in lessons, it also gives me an insight into what makes them tick. Being able to see, as a student walks through my classroom door what mood they are in, or knowing that they have exams coming up in other subjects, or that they may have challenges outside of school, enables me to tailor my delivery to their current mindset as well as to their level of knowledge. The key here is playing the long game. There is no silver bullet. But building that positive relationship over time, showing that you can be trusted, pays real dividends.

Recommended Reading…

An excellent book about how to work with students lacking in resilience is Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristen Souers (Amazon affiliate link). This book explores a range of strategies that you can use to help develop your relationships with students, particularly those who have undergone ‘trauma’, leading to them lacking in resilience. Reading this book has made a huge difference to how I manage the behaviour and expectations of a number of my students and I recommend it to anyone seeking to find evidence-informed ways to engage students who struggle with resilience.

Now, over to you…

I would love to hear some ways you have built resilience into your students. 

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

WooCommerce
%d bloggers like this: